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A changing approach: inclusive design

The guest blog is written by Anna McConnell, a Product and Service Research Associate with Engage Business Network, Age UK. She is working on a Knowledge Transfer Partnership between Brunel University and Age UK.

For too long industry has perceived inclusive design as ugly, expensive, time consuming and complicated. It’s time to stop focusing on the barriers and instead realise that demographic changes mean that inclusive design can help organisations become and remain competitive in our ageing society – by continuously assessing and interpreting the changing needs of their customers as they age in order to develop targeted and aspirational products and services to people of all ages.

Although difficult to definitively prove the economic benefits of inclusivity; design as a whole is difficult to quantify and focusing solely on the bottom may be misleading and may hide the bigger picture. Inclusive design practices can help organisations to see the world through their customers’ eyes and put people of all ages and abilities at the centre of their business strategy.

“Design for the young and you exclude the old; design for the old and you include the young”.  Bernard Isaacs, Founding Director of the Birmingham Centre for Applied Gerontology.

Large brands are beginning to take notice of this approach. Twinings and Unilever have both recently discussed their changing strategies on the Marketing Week website; Unilever’s senior vice-president of marketing, Marc Mathieu, says their strategy is more about real people rather than generic customers, “creating a brand that puts real people’s lives at the centre of everything, rather than consumers”.

Many companies have found significant financial success by applying Bernard Isaacs’ principle to the development of products and services; the BT Big Button 100 Telephone, developed in 1998, designed with the wider needs of all users in mind, is still one of their best sellers.

Internal investment in internal design and innovation can have very positive effects of the financial performance of organisations: “Product Design and Financial Performance”, “Valuing Design: Enhancing Corporate Performance through Design Effectiveness”, “Design Index: The Impact of Design of Stock Market Performance”, “How do Creativity and Design Enhance Business Performance? A framework for Interpreting the Evidence”, and “The Economic Effects of Design” have demonstrated positive effects to higher investment in design. These effects include increased sales, cash flow and revenue, lower costs, increased productivity, greater probability of innovation and increased stock market value.

Things are starting to change; businesses are rethinking the way they see older customers, moving away from our traditional ageist approaches to product development and marketing and to understanding the real value in an inclusive corporate strategy. Here at the Engage Business Network we work with companies to explore this growing market and give older people better choice of products and services.

Find out more about the Engage Business Network

Read more about our work on consumer issues